Recently, Hg was musing on how he is “fascinated by the sparseness of the planet’s polar extremes and specifically by artistic responses to the territory”. He quote from Brian Keenan’s book, Four Quarters of Light, and it’s such a great quote that I have to repeat it here:
“Wilderness to the creative mind is like a blank canvas to a painter: it is full of possibilities. Here is perfect peace and absolute freedom; here too may be the prologue of melancholy or bliss. In the wilderness there are no ready-made roads; you make your own and go where you choose.”
Isn’t that glorious. The entire post is worth a read and really struck a chord, and as well as having me rush off to order the book itself (well, rush to the nearest online bookstore that is), it had me pondering my great romance with water.
Or to be precise, for tap and bottled water isn’t quite what I have in mind, large of bodies of water. Be they rivers, lochs, lakes or seas, they seem to drawn me to them and once there allow my mind to wander freely, unburdened and unconstrained. It’s not always a wilderness but by their very nature they are wild, untamed and far removed from my sedate lifestyle. They can invoke great emotions, and hold many memories for me.
I grew up in a town that sits on the junction of two rivers. The mighty River Clyde which powered the shipbuilding industry from the Cutty Sark (built in my home town) to the latest Navy destroyers, and the River Leven which flows down from Loch Lomond and on which I used to fish.
The town high street runs back to back with the lower reaches of the Leven, and the local park sits right at the tributary.
Fond memories of chasing our dog Sintra as she pounded manically towards the water, leaping out of the car boot, over the park wall and chasing the golden blur on green. Even when she grew old I could never catch her.
Later on I took to fly-fishing on the Leven, and learned how soothing and how painfully beautiful a river can be as the early morning sun breaks over the hills. Wading out into the river, feeling the power surge around you, vividly aware of the force within which you stand, mesmerised. Whirlpools form around your disruption, the water angrily burbling as it rips past, a constant stream in your ears.
My first job took me along the banks of the Clyde, by train, to Helensburgh. A morning commute that could startle and dazzle me in a flash, or thunder at me across the white foam. I’d gaze out as the train speed onwards, too short a commute, always bending away from the water when I wanted just a few more seconds, a final glimpse of the thin silvery morning light.
And so to England, and after a few moves, we spent 6 months living near a man-made lake. Evening strolls, feeding the ducks, watching the surface ripple and roll we’d wander and talk, expanding and exploring, rediscovering ourselves and, at that time, each other once again. It was the best of times.
Back to Scotland and still the River Clyde. Different here, not yet the power of an industry, not yet the holder of large ships but a river of small stature, burbling along, conserving itself, preparing for it’s journey downstream, past the empty shipyards and onwards to the sea.
The final piece of water is bittersweet. I’ve visited it many times, swam in it and paddled along the shore. 18 months ago I stood on the shore, looked out over the water and broke. I cried long and hard, releasing my grief in painful waves. I’ve been back to that same place twice now and still feel the same melancholy, the same hurt, but the water helps soothe and the pain is slowly being washed away, smoothed over and polished, a pebble on the beach.
I am there standing, and looking out towards the horizon as the clouds drift lazily above, the sun sparkling across the expanse. I dream of floating aimlessly, adrift from life and all it’s harsh edges, quietly removing myself from pain. I dream of a different life, similar in many aspects but impossible to achieve. My utopia is reflected in the dancing surface, slowly drifting towards me on the tide only to be twisted, torn and flung upon the pebbled shore, shattering into a million pieces.
I stand there looking down as the surf races around my feet, slowly I bend and try to pick up the pieces of my dream as they swirl around me. I know it cannot be rebuilt, it is gone, dashed from hope, the water has claimed the magic and I watch helplessly as the shimmering parts retreat, floating off into the distance. The magic sparkles in the sun then the dream fades.
I look down at my hands, turn and take the few remaining pieces back up the beach with me, away from the water. I sit down, head in hands and rebuild. Every dream offers a new chance, a new view, a new start, it will never be the same but there will always be new dreams.
Slowly I lift my head, wipe the water from my eyes and with a smile, I get up and walk away. Glancing over my shoulder I watch the final sparkles as they dull, and then disappear.